September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

County fairs

By Natalie Schmitt- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

As Katie and Austin submitted their county fair entry forms this week, it is hard to believe that we are already into county fair season. As we mark time by events, county fairs seem to mark the back end of summer. It is hard to believe that summer can be almost over when it feels like it has only just begun. The sun has finally found its way past the thunderstorm clouds and the temperatures are rising. I finally pulled out my summer work shorts and sleeveless t-shirts. The big portable box fan has been moved to the milk house door to help pull the hot air out of the room. The bred heifers graze through the pasture and waterways. Everything is starting to fall in place for perfect summer scenes.
For me, some of my favorite summer scenes are captured during the county fair. Cotton candy grins. Pig races. Wash rack water fights. Naps nestled between straw bales. Outbursts of laughter from neighbors around the 4-H lunchstand table. The squeal of delight as you slide into friends on the Scrambler. The scream of tractor engines and the smell of diesel exhaust from tractor pulls. County fair crushes. We may have all grown up going to different county fairs, yet many of the memories are similar.
County fairs are a great place to connect with friends and neighbors, yet many of the familiar things are changing. The traditional livestock shows have become much smaller while the exotic animal shows have grown. (Think llamas.) Since there are fewer farmers and farm kids, many of the children showing animals today lease them from producers. The 4-H lease program has allowed the livestock shows to survive and opened the door for many different people to connect with production agriculture. We have leased animals to friends and cousins. The experience of working with their 4-H project animals has led them to pursue careers in agriculture, even though they aren't directly from a farm. They are great spokes - people for agriculture.
The Benton County Fair is celebrating its 101st fair this August. When the fair started, everyone had a milk cow, some chickens, a couple of pigs and a big garden. Everyone was connected by the land and producing their own food. The county fair was the social event of the year. Today the focus of the fair is not on the best milk cow, the biggest squash or the fastest horse. It is still a social event, yet people are flocking to the county fairs to see how many different types of foods they can consume on a stick. I guess it is still ag related, just farther down the production line. I wonder how many of these people see the connection between the food stands and the barns.
County fairs offer all of us an opportunity to reach out and touch, connect and educate our neighbors. The livestock barns seem to be a natural draw for people to wander in and wonder what is going on. It has taken a while, but my kids are finally starting to understand why we take the time to talk with strangers and invite them in to our stall area to touch a calf and answer their questions. Boy have we had some interesting questions.
"So is a bull cow a boy?" (A bull is a boy and cow is a girl. There is no such thing as a bull cow.)
"Is she anorexic? She is so boney!" (Crystal is in peak milk production. She is converting her feed into milk and staying in shape. She is like a fine tuned Olympic athlete who eats a balanced diet to perform at peak production. We have a nutritionist develop a feed ration to help her stay healthy and produce milk.)
"Does chocolate milk come from brown cows?" (People really do ask this question.)
"What are you doing?" (We are blow drying her hair to make her look her best in the show ring. Think of her as a fashion model.)
"How do you get the milk out?" (We have milking demonstrations in the milking parlor so people can see how the milk goes from the cow to the bulk tank to the consumer.)
It is amazing how taking a moment of your time can have an impact for life on someone else over something as simple as getting up close to a calf and petting it. The county fair is not only a place for town kids to learn about agriculture. It is also a place for farm kids to learn how to tell their story about life on their farm. What we take for granted as ordinary and common is strange and unusual to others. The county fair is a great place for all of us to reach out and touch, connect and educate one another.[[In-content Ad]]


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